» With training camp now started, Reich is ensuring his team does what it can to take advantage of its “new normal:” The COVID-19 pandemic already changed the way all 32 teams approached their respective offseason programs, and now they’re embarking on training camps and, in a matter of a few weeks, a regular season, that will be unlike any other.
From heightened protocols designed keep players and staff as safe and healthy as possible, to the elimination of all preseason games, to changes in the way teams can build and maintain their rosters and practice squads, what’s clear is that the organizations that can best handle the curveballs will undoubtedly be in the best position for success in 2020.
Reich is confident the Colts have the right plan put together to do just that.
“We feel like we have the players and the origination that has the maturity not to allow this to be a distraction,” he said.
Reich cited the fact that the Colts’ rookies were able to start reporting for camp last week and pass through all their required COVID-19 testing before beginning some on-field workouts earlier this week; it was clear, the third-year Colts head coach said, that despite having an all-virtual workout program this offseason, those first-year players took their strength and conditioning work seriously in the past several months and reported to the facility in tremendous shape.
Reich also said contract tracers being worn by all players, coaches and support staff will assist in ensuring everybody is utilizing proper social distancing — staying at least six feet apart — as much as possible, especially in team and position meeting rooms.
In some cases, Reich, said some positions could find themselves separated at times and meeting virtually.
» Reich went so far as to consider the Colts’ handling of COVID-19 as a potential “competitive advantage” vs. other teams: While COVID-19 is a highly-infectious disease that will assuredly affect rosters league wide, including the Colts’, in some shape or form over the next few months, Reich isn’t worried about how his players will handle the added expectations and responsibilities being put on their plate.
It’s the very reason Reich and general manager Chris Ballard have targeted the high-character guys the team has acquired, either through the draft or free agency, over the past few seasons.
“Naturally we’re biased, like anybody biased, but I just feel like … what I said to Chris the other day — I know he’s in agreement with this — is that this I believe this puts our team in a competitive advantage. I really do,” Reich said. “I believe that. Because we’ve got high-character guys — really, guys who are willing to sacrifice, guys who are willing to do the best to do the right thing.”
There’s a “not if, but when” approach being taken to the COVID-19 situation with the Colts, and they want to be able handle that the best they can as situations pop up.
“I also think that sometimes things happen; there’s the quote-unquote ‘luck’ factor, there’s providential factors, that sometimes are out of our control,” Reich said. “We could be the most disciplined team, the most mature team, in the league, and you can’t stop it all; there’s some things you can’t stop and that you have no control over. So it’s a maturity to not only handle it the best way we can, but also if something does happen like that we just can’t overreact to what’s happening, like to say, ‘Oh, who let us down? Make that person feel guilty where you let the whole team down.’ Stuff is gonna happen. It’s gonna happen. So let’s just do the best we can to handle it, and then we’ll respond accordingly.”
“I hope that we have no guys go down throughout the whole year, or no coaches go down through the whole year, and that we don’t miss a game (due to COVID-19), but that’s probably not gonna happen,” Reich continued. “I mean, there’s players and coaches that might have to miss games, and so I do think that is the ultimate team test: ‘How are we gonna handle it?’ Chris and I talked about it the other day; the 53-man roster, 16 guys on the practice squad — every one of them is a starter. Every one of them we’ve gotta look at is this guy’s a starter; how are we going to do training camp to make sure that the 69th guy on the roster is ready to play Week 1, because something could happen where he’s up, and maybe he’s not starting, but maybe he has to come in and play a key role, because five guys get the virus right before Week 1 and can’t play, and now all of a sudden those guys are playing. So it’s a good test for our team.”
» There will be considerably fewer opportunities to evaluate some players on the roster this year, but that doesn’t mean practices won’t be extremely competitive nonetheless: One concession every team across the league is making with zero preseason games and fewer actual training camp practices heading into the regular season is the fact they won’t get an opportunity to see as much out of their late-round draft picks and undrafted rookies as they normally would any other year.
Reich and the Colts’ coaching staff will do everything they can to expose those players to as many competitive reps as they can over the next few weeks; he’s confident that, like any other year, the best 53 players will end up making the final roster.
“I think without question the more reps of a guy you can see, the better,” Reich said. “We all think we’re pretty good evaluators in this building, so naturally I think we feel confident we’re going to figure out who should make the team.”
Once padded practices can begin on Aug. 17, the intensity is expected to really pick up. Reich said the plan for now is to even have a couple practice sessions at Lucas Oil Stadium.
“We’ll try to make those practices as game-like (as we can),” he said.
One position battle of note Reich touched on Wednesday was the kicking competition between Chase McLaughlin and undrafted rookie Rodrigo Blankenship. While it’s difficult to emulate real game settings for kickers in practice, Reich said his staff will do everything it can to create high-pressure situations for those guys and give them the opportunity to thrive in the spotlight.
» There’s give and take between the team’s rigid strength and conditioning programs and what’s always worked for Philip Rivers: You don’t last 16-plus seasons in the NFL by accident, so clearly Rivers has a solid approach when it comes to his own strength and conditioning work.
But Rivers is also entering his first season with the Colts, who take a little bit different approach than other teams as it pertains to nutrition and in the weight room.
Reich said it’s been important to find a balance that allows Rivers to do his own thing in some regards, but also take on a few of his new team’s initiatives with an individualized plan set to allow the veteran quarterback to thrive physically.
“When he and I were together before — we talked a lot about this before — we just talked about small incremental changes, and the one thing that, you know, when you get to be an older vet, I don’t like to see older vets all of a sudden just do some drastically new things. Many times that backfires,” Reich said. “So I’ve talked to our strength and conditioning staff, I’ve talked to Philip, we all have the approach of, ‘Hey, Philip knows what he’s doing. He’s been doing this a long time. He knows what works.’ Philip agrees, and we agree, that he can get better; just because this is Year 17 and he’s 38 years old, there’s ways that he can physically get better. And so he’s committed to doing that, but he also knows that we’re committed — like we are to every other player on the team — to tailor something that is very specific to him, at 38 years old, 17 years into his career, what’s right for him to be the best version of himself when we line up against Jacksonville, hopefully, in Week 1. And it’s a really good situation.”